With the 2021 season having come to a close, we are looking back at the year that was for members of the Texas Rangers.
Today we are looking at relief pitcher Joely Rodriguez.
Joely Rodriguez was a successful signing, right? The Rangers signed Rodriguez to a 2 year deal with an option out of Japan after the 2019 season, guaranteeing him $5.5 million. He put up a 4.73 ERA and a 3.08 FIP in 40 innings of work for Texas before being the John King replacement in the Joey Gallo trade. That’s generally okay for that sort of investment.
Well, the ERA was higher than you’d like, I acknowledge, but his FIP was good. In 2021 he put up a 2.13 ERA in 12.2 IP with a 1.69 FIP, then put up a 5.93 ERA with a 3.72 FIP in 27.1 IP before being dealt to the Yankees. The bad ERA was largely owing to a bad three week stretch in mid-May to early June when he put up a 19.06 ERA — 12 runs in 5.2 IP — and whether because there was something physically wrong with him during that stretch, if he was mechanically out of whack, if it was just random chance, he pitched really well before or after then. Statcast has an xERA of 3.30 for Joely in 2020 and 3.78 (between Texas and New York) in 2021, so he generally was fine.
We’d likely remember Joely’s 2020 differently but for COVID-19. A lat string in April sidelined him for what would have been several months but for the pandemic that struck and put everything on hold for a while. As it was, Rodriguez started the 2020 season on the injured list anyway, being activated in early August for a month before a hamstring injury put him back on the injured list for good in early September.
Of course, by early September, the Rangers 2020 season had fallen apart and become a disaster, and we were paying attention to the young players, so Joely Rodriguez missing the final few weeks doesn’t even register in our minds. For that month or so he was on the mound, he pitched well. It was in a season that didn’t matter, in a year where baseball didn’t matter — or didn’t matter more than it usually doesn’t matter, in the grand scheme of the world — but hey, that’s better than not pitching well.
When 2021 rolled around, Rodriguez had an ankle sprain at the start of camp that put him behind the rest of the pitchers, and ultimately resulted in him starting the season on the injured list. Three injuries in less than twelve months will garner one the “injury prone” label, and the problem with injury prone players is that they tend to get injured, so in a complete rebuild season where everyone who wasn’t under team control beyond 2022 was liable to be dealt, this was a cause for concern for Rangers fans primarily because of what it potentially did for his trade value.
Rodriguez returned to action in mid-April, however, stayed healthy the rest of the way, and pitched almost exclusively in the eighth inning for Chris Woodward, as the lefty setup guy to closer Ian Kennedy on those rare occasions where the Rangers had a lead to protect late, or at least were close.
And thus it was until late July, when the deal that was to send Joey Gallo and John King to the New York Yankees was put on hold due to the Yankees’ (in retrospect, very justifiable) concerns about King’s medicals. The Yankees, seeking lefty bullpen help, were willing to accept Joely in lieu of the soon-to-undergo-Thoracic-Outlet-surgery John K., but weren’t willing to give up as much for a Gallo-Rodriguez package as for a Gallo-King package. Given that King had pitched better than Rodriguez in 2021 (though whether by a little or a lot depends on the lens through which you were examining them), had five years of control remaining, and had more upside, it makes sense that the Yankees would scale back their offer under those circumstances.
The result was that Everson Pereira and Randy Vasquez were pulled out of the deal, apparently being viewed as equivalent in value to the delta between King and Rodriguez. That resulted in a certain amount of angst in some quarters — I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, but then, I like King and thought Pereira and Vasquez were the third or fourth and fifth or sixth best players in the deal, respectively. But Pereira put up some impressive numbers in high-A (albeit with some scary contact issues), and Kiley McDaniel had him in his top 100 (although that appears to be something of an idiosyncratic pick, based on where other prognosticators have Pereira ranked), and he has the sort of upside that could make us very upset about this a half-decade from now.*
* Its also worth noting that Pereira was added to the Yankees’ 40 man roster this offseason, despite having only 210 plate appearances in full season ball. Its probably just as well the Rangers didn’t end up with Pereira, since that would result in arguments about whether he needed to be protected, whether he should be protected, if he is going to be rushed if he is protected, and then meta-debates over whether there’s a 40 man roster crunch or not and what that even means.
Rodriguez performed well for the Yankees over the final two months, putting up a 2.84 ERA and a 3.01 FIP in 19 innings, though the Yankees opted to decline his $3 million option for 2022, choosing to pay his $500,000 buyout instead (which I think the Rangers were actually on the hook for under the terms of the trade). New York then re-signed Rodriguez three days later on a one year, $2 million deal, so, yay for saving $500,000 I guess? Maybe they figured that would be their share of the $15 million bonus pool for pre-arb players that the owners have proposed.
Anyway, it is still one those interesting things to me that this was actually Rodriguez’s second stint with Texas, as he had been acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in June, 2017, for a PTBNL or cash, and pitched (poorly) for Round Rock the rest of the year before being designated for assignment, along with the great Dario Alvarez, to make room on the 40 man roster when the team brought up A.J. Jimenez and Will Middlebrooks, ultimately being outrighted on September 8, 2017. Rodriguez signed with Baltimore that offseason before being released in the summer of 2018 so he could pursue an opportunity in Japan.
It is one of those things that I find interesting — obviously the Rangers liked him enough to acquire him in 2017, and I find myself idly, pointlessly wondering to what extent that ongoing level of interest led to them bringing Rodriguez back after the 2019 season.
Ultimately, Rodriguez was a good enough signing, and if the Rangers were decent, good enough to be in the playoff race in some form or fashion, his providing useful lefty innings from the pen would have perhaps been one of those small moves that helped the Rangers succeed.
Unfortunately, among the weird obsessive Ranger fan crowd (like those of us here), he’s most likely going to be remembered as the guy who wasn’t good enough to bring back Everson Pereira and Randy Vasquez.